Color, 2011, 72m.
Directed by Sean Hogan
Starring Billy Clarke, Jack Gordon, Jonathan Hansler, Harry Miller
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Metrodome (DVD) (UK R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DD5.1
Largely overshadowed upon its release by the same year’s Kill List, here’s another British genre-tweaking shocker about two hit men going out on a job only to encounter a supernatural menace far more expansive than they could have imagined. That’s really where the similarities end though as our two assassins, Mr. Pinner (Clarke) and Cully (Gordon), are sent to the home of their target, a mysterious Mr. Kist (Hansler), who’s out for a night at the theater. As the two men open up to each other (including the sharing of one especially traumatic story), they also begin to explore the house and uncover a few ominous surprises… like a black magic altar in the basement. That’s just the beginning though as their job starts to take some decidedly unnatural directions that leave them afraid for their lives.
The cover art already makes it clear that this will turn into an all-out horror film at some point or another, but much of the fun here lies in sharing time with the two lead actors as they verbally tap dance through the first half of the film. It’s never slow and allows for some really great showboating moments, especially a monologue that clearly aims to take on Jaws territory and comes closer than you might expect. It’s also tempting to compare this to House of the Devil as it confines its characters to a single house and operates at a slow burn for much of the running time, only to go ballistic for a sudden finale that has left many viewers divided. Director Sean Hogan (Little Deaths) keeps things well under control for the unusually short running time (just over an hour), resulting in a modest but effective little chiller that achieves far more than its means. It definitely won't be a film for all tastes (there's good reason Harold Pinter keeps being brought up by critics), but for anyone who likes a dose of cerebral art house attitude with their English chills, this one's quite tasty.
This also happens to be a very well-shot film with skillful scope framing and some wonderfully evocative lighting; this one really does feel like it's unfolding in the countryside around the witching hour. The film was given an adequate DVD release in 2012 from Metrodome in the U.K. (now discontinued), but the American release -- a surprising contemporary choice for Mondo Macabro -- is a far more robust and pleasing option, especially the Blu-ray in the dual-format combo package. The gorgeous cobalt blues and lime greens look great here, and some scenes that were difficult to make out are far more clear here. DTS-HD and Dolby Digital 5.1 options are included along with an audio commentary with Hogan and producer Jennifer Handorf, who talk about the aesthetic choices throughout and the fleeting but well-researched nods to black magic practices, not to mention an unexpected tip of the hat to Harmony Korine and the potential pitfalls of having a soft-spoken nice guy spout profane dialogue.
There's also a whole selection of interviews with the cast and crew, five in fact, starting with the film's EPK (over nine minutes) which features copious behind-the-scenes footage (and, be warned, a few spoilers). Then Clarke (in front of some surprising Criterion titles) gets a separate 13-minute interview in which he covers his early sports career and his early workshop experience in Irish theater, which led to his current career. He also reveals his biggest energy source during the shoot, too, for shooting the scariest scenes. Then Hogan (in front of some Mario Bava DVDs!) gets 26 minutes to cover his introduction to horror as a boy, cinema as therapy, the audience reaction to the film, and his own views on what he finds terrifying. The American Handorf then spends 12 minutes chatting about her initiation into producing working on a thesis project, the challenges of finding the right locations in Wales, and the script changes imposed by switching houses with a barn turning into a garage. Finally composer Justin Greaves (who sports some pretty impressive ink) has 16 minutes to explain his own music process, including his previous work on Little Death, his love of John Carpenter and Goblin, and his views on scoring as the purest form of music. Also included are three music videos ("Laying Traps" and "Northern Comfort" by Crippled Black Phoenix, plus "Chasing Changes" by Se Delan, which features Clarke in a variety of guises -- including drag), one minute of outtakes showing Clarke's improvised reaction to a key moment from the climax, and the usual delirious Mondo Macabro promo reel.